Our goal is to create a community of irreplaceable value for our students. It’s a dynamic goal, one that grows over time as we evolve our pedagogy to better serve our community and adapt to the quickly changing world. We want our students to be agile and able to transfer what they learn in school to any area of their lives. And as we develop new curriculum and teaching practices, we think about the bigger picture. We examine the relationship between the potential we see in our students and the environment we provide to help them reach it. We talked about all of this and more during our faculty summer read day focused on Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated.
Educated is the story of Tara Westover’s journey through a nontraditional model of education. Raised in a family of survivalists in Idaho, she didn’t step foot into a classroom until the age of 17. Without any formal education, she taught herself enough math and grammar to gain acceptance to Brigham Young University and ultimately went on to Harvard. The book raises issues about what education means in a broader sense but also explores how life experiences and trauma can affect a person’s learning, formal or informal.
Faculty Summer Read Day
The Faculty Summer Read is a cornerstone of our professional development program. Over the summer, every faculty and staff member reads the same book or selection of books. When we return from break, we gather for a full day of activities surrounding themes inspired by the reading. Teachers from all grade levels and disciplines mix in groups to discuss big ideas in education and how those might translate into a better learning experience for our students at Severn.
This year, the day was set up like a conference with multiple activities to encourage thoughtful consideration and collaboration. Our teachers first paired off for "empathy interviews" during which they asked each other questions to learn about their lives and learning experiences outside of Severn. They then broke into groups to discuss assigned questions, rotated to change group members and topics, and finished the day with an "unconference" discussion group. During this last session, teachers submitted ideas they would like to explore further and were free to mix among groups as suited their interests.
Topics discussed include:
What does it mean to be educated — how do we define formal vs. informal education?
How can we make what we do in our classrooms as relevant and immediate as a great deal of "informal" education?
How can we avoid making assumptions about what our students know or don't know?
How can we deal with -isms?
What does this book say about the college admissions process?
How might we more effectively convey the learning experiences of our students in our comments?
As a student-centered institution, we believe that we should model the qualities we wish to see in our students. To that end, we engage in professional development as a community of learners. Adults learn best in collaborative situations where professional growth is valued.
Starting with the Summer Faculty Read and building upon the work we do during the Severn Summer Institute, we provide built-in professional development opportunities throughout the year, support faculty travel to conferences, and offer grants for personal and professional growth. We hope that faculty will engage frequently in professional development to remain nimble for change in our evolving world.